When developing an enterprise or supplier development (ESD) programme, the process used to select participating entrepreneurs naturally influences everything else that will follow. As such, it is absolutely critical that such a process be thorough, methodical and strategically designed.
The overall framework that will craft your selection criteria will be based in part on the specifications of the type of entrepreneurs sought and the strategies that will be used as part of the ESD programme.
It is vital that the appropriate Small, Mediums and Micro Enterprises (SMMEs) are selected as the calibre of talent within the programme will be the greatest factor influencing overall success.
When inviting applications or expressions of interest by potential participants, there are a number of methods available to the programme team:
- Internal talent
- Using existing or available ESD databases
- Accessing market databases
- Roadshows and industry exhibitions
- Advertising which would reach the appropriate, targeted audience
- Professional recruiters
- Reference by known colleague or trusted professional
The objective of these methods is to determine a pipeline of beneficiaries for the programme, depending on how it is structured.
Narrowing the field through criteria
Once all the necessary applications have been received, a short-list criteria should be developed to narrow down the candidates.
Different types of criteria to include can be:
- Socio-economic background – B-BBEE status
- Qualifications – Education level
- Experience – Have they run a business before?
- Financial capabilities
- Personal – This includes applicant’s attitude (very important in testing times), communication skills and other traits identified as being important to the programme
- Necessary documentation depending on the requirements of the programme
For each of these criteria, a minimum level must be set to help separate the chaff from the wheat, and it also needs to be decided who will adjudicate the relevant applications against what is stated in the criteria.
Once this step has taken place, a briefing seminar can be held so applicants receive greater detail about how the programme functions, who runs it and its objectives. Depending on what approach is decided and the length of the short-list, interviews can also be arranged at this juncture with the remaining participants.
Interviews in particular are key spaces to assess the suitability of a candidate off-page i.e. where you can learn information that is not contained or listed in their written application. Characteristics that can be drawn from interviews include a candidates communication skills and style, personability, integrity or honesty, personal history and other views that might have an impact on the programme.
Final selection and the MOU
Once these steps have been followed, and the final list of candidates has been winnowed to the point where the selected entrepreneur has been identified, an assessment and report should be compiled on the candidate.
The report can serve as the reference point with the candidate going forward, a report of record which can be furthered added to as the relationship between the selected entrepreneur and programme stakeholders matures.
The assessment allows for a deeper understanding of exactly what the business needs, what support is required and what needs to be achieved so at the programme’s conclusion, the exit strategy can be enacted.
At this point, a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) should be drafted by a qualified legal professional, agreed to in principle and then signed by the relevant parties. This legal instrument will help to define the scope of the programme and all parties’ legal obligations and/or expectations in relation to it. It is not unreasonable to state that all parties at the outset wish to succeed, but the MOU will act as the anchor for all parties going forward.
In summation, the following tasks should occur as part of the ESD selection process to ensure the right candidates are part of the projects where all parties will mutually benefit:
- Plan recruitment methods and channels
- Draft candidate shortlist selection criteria and who will adjudicate applications
- Design and execute final assessment criteria
- Decide if interviews will be conducted and by who
- Develop the MOU template, its scope and its breadth
The selection of candidates for your ESD programme is a key moment that will greatly affect its chances of success or failure. It is not unreasonable nor foolhardy to dedicate a significant amount of time to this facet of the ESD programme process, particularly given the long project times associated with these types of initiatives.